Getting Around in France

Eiffel Tower

As an American expat living in France, I’m often asked questions regarding transportation, driver’s licenses, etc.  Here are a few t

houghts on such matters:

First off, if you plan on moving permanently to France, you will eventually have to apply for a French driver’s license.  You have a period of one year before it is required that you have a French-issued license to drive here.  The driver’s licenses of some U.S. states can be exchanged for French licenses without further efforts.  The licenses of other states unfortunately can’t be exchanged.  You’ll have to go
through the driver’s education thing all over again.  In other words, you’ll need to study up and take written and performance tests to get a license.   Last I heard, New York State licenses couldn’t be exchanged.  Sorry, New Yorkers.

French driving regulations can differ from those of many United States regions.  For example, speed limits in France tend to vary based on weather conditions.  Accordingly, even if you don’t need to take a driver’s test, you’ll want to make yourself familiar with the local traffic laws.  This is particularly true because the monetary penalties for speeding can be pretty steep, and the police have authority to confiscate your car if you can’t or won’t pay the fine.  The DUI laws here are also relatively tough, so you definitely don’t want to mess around with that.

If you find yourself without a license to drive, don’t despair.  France has a pretty good public transportation system.  Transportation between French cities and towns can be relatively reasonably priced, especially if you have some time on your hands and you don’t mind taking a slower-speed train.

If neither car nor bus nor train is available, you can always consider traveling via bicycle.  It’s a great cardio workout and the perfect way to see the amazing French countryside.  There’s a reason cycling is so popular in this country.  It’s a beautiful place to ride a bike.

If you don’t have a bicycle, well, you can always walk.  There are many hiking paths throughout the country.  The urban walks are equally enjoyable.  Slow down, take your time and soak in the atmosphere of France.

The Amazing Diversity Of The French People

frenchI cringe when I think of how some Americans picture the French: as thin, pouty wine aficionados sitting in cafes and smoking while dining on frog legs and Brie.

For one thing, many French people think frog legs are gross.  I remember, during one of my first trips to Paris, I decided to order frog legs, just to try them.  When my amphibian appetizers arrived, an amiable Frenchwoman at the next table looked at me and said in English: “Yuck.  Frogs.”

This woman wasn’t being rude.  She simply thought it was funny that so many Americans think French people eat frogs.  We talked for a while.  She was a fitness instructor who, by the way, didn’t smoke or appreciate second hand smoke.

The French are making many strides in terms of the anti-smoking movement.  There are now many places where smoking is prohibited by law.

In addition to not smoking, this woman I met didn’t drink wine.  She didn’t care for wine.  She was actually drinking a beer.  I know some beer-loving would-be expats are concerned that they won’t be able to find a good beer in France at a reasonable price.  Yes, wine is more prevalent here, no doubt, but you can find bars with a nice selection of beers and ales.  There are some great Irish pubs in Paris.

Anyway, this woman with an aversion to frog legs, cigarettes and wine is just one example of how the French will always surprise the uninitiated.

In a manner contrary to the tired misconception that the people of France are rude, so many French men and women have been exceedingly friendly and generous to me.  I am extremely grateful to know them and to have been able to share their company.

Going back to where I started in this piece, those frog legs didn’t taste like I thought they would.  (They definitely don’t taste like chicken!)  In a similar manner, the country of France and its people are so much more than any iconic images can capture.  France is a concept that needs to be experienced to truly understand its inimitable energy, diversity and verve.

Backpacking In Burgundy

Man stands near packed backpack and ready to goSome have asked me what I love most about living in France.  There are too many contenders for that answer to arrive at just one response.  I will say that, among the many reasons I love living in France, one is that I’m always close to some of the world’s most famous and most scenic wine regions.

The area in and around Burgundy is truly beautiful.  Even if you don’t like wine, the region’s stunning visual appeal is worth a trip.  I’ll never get tired of walking among Burgundy’s grand cru vineyards, with their old stone walls and cast-iron gates.

If you do love wine, then you’ll be in heaven here.  The old stone walls I mentioned guard some of the world’s most valuable grapes.

Many wine enthusiasts are familiar with the concept of “terroir”, which is the overall combination of environmental factors that contribute to the qualities of a grape.  Terroir is about the place, an essence you can feel, and you can truly feel the terroir of these vine-covered slopes.

For architecture and history lovers, there are abbeys and cathedrals and no shortage of charming village streets.  Strolling along the Rue des Forges in Dijon is a virtual trip back in time.  The well-preserved historical edifices have a fairy tale charm that even the cold-hearted would find hard to resist.  Nearby is the Ducal Palace, which boasts an excellent art collection.

I never stay in one place.  I move from appellation to appellation.  Each has a distinctive character and its own story to tell.

Most recently I found myself wandering through the Cote de Beaune.  The wines here are capable of an extraordinary magic trick; they combine intensity with subtlety in one sip.  If you think you’ve had great wine before, you have to try some of this.

That evening, I didn’t eat out.  I preferred to stay in with a recently purchased bottle of chardonnay.   I paired an amazingly minerally Puligny-Montrachet with a turkey sandwich on rustic rye bread.  What a match!  Food doesn’t have to be pretentious to stand up to great wine.

Sleep came easily that night.  Life is good.